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7 Years of EU-Türkiye Deal

In 2016, the EU-Türkiye deal was signed to prevent images like those from 2015. The deal was a blueprint for the externalisation and criminalisation of asylum seekers. Now it is expiring. A review.

It has been ten years since the groundwork for the EU-Türkiye “deal” was laid. In 2013, then-EU Commissioner for Home Affairs signed the “Readmission Agreement” and launched the “Visa Liberation Dialogue” with Türkiye. These decisions would accumulate into the “EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan”, which stated that “all irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as of March 20, 2016, will be returned to Türkiye” and that Türkiye would “take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for irregular migration” between its borders and the EU. The goal was clearly stipulated: the agreement sought to end or substantially reduce “irregular crossings” into EU member state territories. In return, the EU would activate a revision of the bilateral visa plan through which Turkish citizens would benefit from a liberalization of visa requirements when re-settling into member states. Additionally, the Union also committed to allocating between 3 and 6 billion euros for refugee facilities and other infrastructures in Türkiye under its “Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme” and reconsider a future possibility of the country acquiring an EU membership.

This month, the financial flows from the EU towards Türkiye are set to be suspended, but it has become clear that both parties have been considering a continuation of their 2016 “deal”. In response, humanitarian organizations have raised their concerns using the slogan “No More EU-Turkey Deal – Human Rights Are Not for Sale”. A coalition of the German sea rescue organization Seebrücke and its partners Balkanbrücke, and SOS Balkanroute, have been protesting against the funding of human rights violations both at the shared borders among EU member states and Türkiye and in North Kurdistan, a contested region that is internationally recognized as part of the Turkish state. The resistance against the EU-Türkiye “deal” has been ongoing for the past seven years, as people experiencing forced displacement and activists have recognized it as the foundation for the normalization and legitimization of pushbacks, deportations, and the externalization of what should be considered a shared, “European” responsibility. Lastly, the agreement highlights the vicious circle of EU migration policies, the irony of which is not lost to close observers: while EU money is pumped into increasing securitization, leading to mass death, the implementation of violent measures and the inhumane confinement of displaced persons, the Union does not deploy any effective measures to remedy the situations people are seeking refuge from in the first place. Instead, a further significant part of its budget has been continuously flowing for seven years towards the Turkish regime, a warring party in regional conflicts that constitute the very driving forces behind some flight-migration movements.

Indeed, what the EU should be concerned about is not whether the EU-Türkiye agreement “worked” or not. If one thing has become evident over the past decade is that flight-migration should not and cannot be stopped, and that any efforts to halt movements instead of working towards solving their causes merely creates new ways in which vulnerable people on the move can be exploited, sent “back” against their will, and met with forceful restraint. According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), despite some evidence supporting a “significant reduction in the number of people risking the dangerous journey to Greece, the price for those that do make it to the EU has been unbearable”. Individuals who have succeeded in leaving Türkiye since 2016 have done so at a heightened risk of their lives, as they face pushbacks at an accelerated rate, carried out by Frontex and national border police agencies. More recently, reports of other forms of violence and inhumane confinement methods have surfaced, implicating an increasingly privatized security apparatus including private military companies (PMCs) as well as organized right-wing militia groups.

Hence, Project Elpida has joined Seebrücke, Balkanbrücke, SOS Balkanroute and many other organisations in voicing their damnation of any plans to continue or reinstate the EU-Türkiye “deal”. They emphasize that fleeing people who are deported back to Türkiye from the EU are exposed to severe human rights violations for which the Turkish state cannot be held internationally accountable, as it is signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention by maintaining a “geographical limitation only to people originating from Europe”, according to UNHCR. Further, disturbing reports indicate that people have also repeatedly been deported to Syrian war zones upon their arrival in Türkiye.

Europe’s solidarity communities are also worried about the implications of this deal for future EU migration policies – will the Union seek out similar “deals” with Croatia or Bulgaria? In our last post, we laid out the topics of discussion of the Special Council on February 9th and described alarming reports of plans to further externalize issues related to flight, such as the construction of “refugee camps” in African countries like Libya. Poignantly, Seebrücke and its partners condemn the Union’s pattern of “buying itself free of any rule of law obligation”, and demand that member states face their responsibilities and create accountability mechanisms for the inhumane situation they currently allow and foster within their borders but also for the countless human rights violations they fund in Türkiye. Rather than signing off financial flows in the billions to regimes of the likes of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who have been party to armed conflicts that are forcefully displacing regional inhabitants, the Union should use its budget to address the multiple humanitarian crises taking place at its peripheries.

Find the open letter here

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